By Dan Girolamo
The NBA’s most famous rivalry on the court will now battle off the court for the prize that is Kawhi Leonard. According to Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports, Leonard wants to be traded out of San Antonio. The tension stems from how the organization handled Leonard’s quadriceps injury this past year and from the looks of it, the relationship cannot be fixed.
The Spurs are a model of consistency, having been to the playoffs every year since 1997 and winning five championships during that time frame. The Spurs also have arguably the best coaching and GM tandem in the NBA with Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford. Seeing turmoil between a player and management in the Spurs organization is like seeing Bigfoot. It’s unheard of and rare.
If the relationship cannot be mended between Leonard and the Spurs, every NBA team will pick up their phones and try to acquire the 26-year-old. When healthy, Leonard is a top five player as well as the best two-way player in the NBA today. Leonard is a two-time All-Star and two-time Defensive Player of the Year who was the 2013-14 NBA Finals MVP. Superstars don’t grow on trees so if a team has a chance to sign or trade for one, they should do whatever it takes to make that happen.
That being said, San Antonio is not going to trade an All-NBA talent for a few scrubs and a bag of peanuts. The Spurs are going to command a combination of young, proven talent as well as draft picks in order to even discuss a trade for Leonard. In turn, Leonard can become a free agent after 2019 if he does not sign the supermax with the Spurs this summer. If a team does trade for Leonard, they will have to receive a verbal commitment from Leonard saying that he will resign with the team in order to make the deal.
Young talent, draft picks, and a place that Kawhi wants to go. What teams check all of those boxes? There are two, Boston and LA.
On paper, the Celtics and the Lakers have the necessary assets to make a deal for Leonard. Let’s start with the Celtics. Boston has taken young talent and developed them into potential superstars. The “kids,” lead by Jason Tatum, Jalen Brown, and Terry Rozier, brought the Celtics to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Boston also has a plethora of draft picks, including multiple first round picks for 2019. Tatum is most likely untouchable, but a trade centered around Brown and Rozier with draft picks may be the best deal any team has to offer.
On the other coast lies the upstart Los Angles Lakers, who will be major players in free agency this summer. The Lakers have room for two max contracts and have already shown interest in signing Paul George and the King himself, Lebron James. If the Lakers land both George and James, trading for Leonard is still a high possibility especially if Leonard prefers the Lakers as his top team. The Lakers can package a deal around Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, but they may have to bring in another team to make the deal that much sweeter.
When the smoke clears, I believe Kawhi Leonard will be on the Boston Celtics come opening night next season. The Celtics have the emerging talent and the draft picks to make a trade. Plus, trading Leonard to the Celtics, as opposed to the Lakers, keeps him out of the Western Conference. With Kawhi Leonard, the Boston Celtics would officially become the favorites to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.
Let the offseason madness begin.